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  • robertolugo73

Adding Buffer Time to All Your Projects

In 2008 I managed a project in Houston, TX where we removed all the carpeting throughout the downstairs level of my client's house and replaced it with engineered wood. At the time, we made a conscious decision to not demolish the entryway platform then but planned to do so in the future when it would be time to refinish the wood floors. We decided to install the shown marble and use planks that matched the floor to cover the sides of the cement.

15 years later, the engineered floor has lasted quite nicely and is not in need of refinishing. However, since we recently reupholstered all her downstairs furniture, the entryway now had a decidedly dated and tired look. Not to mention, during the pandemic in 2020, like many of us, the client worked from her home and converted the room by the downstairs bathroom into her home office. Several days into working from home the client became tired of having to go up and down the platform each time she had to go back and forth from her office to the rest of the house, now a daily occurrence. One thing became abundantly clear. The raised platform would have to go!

The first question she posed for me was "What are we going to put there once we demolish it? Do we just use the same wood? Since that was my first go-to, I immediately agreed and went in search of buying the additional flooring needed. Only to discover that it was no longer fabricated. The manufacturer still existed but the type of wood, in that color, was no longer available. Accepting that the material was no longer available and that we would have to consider other alternatives, after several conversations we decided to use a larger scale porcelain.
Taking advantage of the fact that the staircase also had to be modified to accommodate the new floor height and that she was now going to have a mess in her home, we determined that it would be a good time to refresh the staircase including all the spindles, risers and bannisters as well as all the trim on the staircase and entryway. Those decisions made, we were ready for an estimate, along with the timeline, from the contractor.

In my walkthrough with him, I clearly outlined the scope of work including the demolition of the platform and the installation of the new tile floor, the removal of the lower bannisters and posts on the staircase so we could extend the staircase one step further and the change in color of the spindles, trims, bannisters and risers. I also discussed the temporary modification of the entryway door.

The client and I determined that we would replace the entryway door with a custom one but did not want to wait until it came in to do the work. So we came up with a temporary solution for that as well. At the end of the walkthrough the contractor turned to me and said he'd be done in one week. I pointedly asked, "Are you sure about that? I think it will take you closer to 3 weeks."

A confident smile on his face, he said, "No. The demolition will only take one day and I'll bring extra workers and we'll have it all done in a week." I said okay and then we determined a start date. I then told the client that the contractor had said one week but I thought it likely that it could take anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks to complete. Having worked with me many times before, she understood that I had built-in buffer time for her project.

What is buffer time for a project? Buffer time is the time allowed for the things that were not immediately visible that create an obstacle or delay while in the middle of a project or worse, it is the time needed to address an actual problem that wasn't considered in the original scope of work. Unfortunately for my client, the latter, not the former, has become the case in the removal of the platform.

Demolition has taken 5 entire days, not the 1 day the contractor had allocated. In removing the platform we discovered that the original builder of the house had not bothered to lay foundation beneath the platform and so the laying of a foundation in the excavated area now became a necessity. Then the floor had to be leveled and then, the tiling could commence. From there it was a pretty straight forward endeavor.

However, it is important to note, that we are now at 6 days since the project began with the lion's share of the work still to go. In other words, we are already a week behind in schedule. In a reassessment meeting the contractor realized his error in the timeline and accepted that it would take him 3 weeks to finish it after all.

When planning your projects ALWAYS plug in buffer time. The bigger the project, the greater the buffer time. For example, if you're going to renovate your kitchen and the contractor tells you 3 1/2 weeks to completion, plan for being without your kitchen for 6 weeks. And that is with the absolute certainty that your cabinets will be delivered shortly before the kitchen floors are done. The safer thing would be to have them delivered the day demolition begins because I always recommend that someone do a quality check upon the arrival of the cabinetry and if something is wrong, it will give you time to resolve it and/or replace a cabinet(s) while the work is happening, not when you're ready to install.

Delays can stack upon delays and make what should be a short project into a behemoth of a nightmare. Planning everything helps to limit problems to the best of your ability but it in no way replaces the fact that once an obstacle or a problem arises, you are going to have to readjust your timeline, guaranteed. Here's a simple formula for buffer time that I use for my projects:

- Painting over existing paint with the same or darker color, no repair work on walls - add 2 days
- Painting over existing paint with a lighter color, medium repair on the walls - 2-4 days
- Painting - either new construction (meaning new walls) or extensive repairs on walls - add a week and a half (contractors generally take longer to plaster and sand than they'd like it to)
- Kitchen renovations (on existing - meaning, it's the same kitchen, you're not changing layouts, plumbing or extensive electrical - outlets excluded) - Add 2 weeks to the contractor's timeline. Usually, everyone forgets that the countertops cannot be templated until the cabinetry and the appliances are installed and except for some special conditions, there's always a lead time between templating and installation.
- Kitchen renovation (extensive - meaning it's a whole brand new kitchen, with walls going up or down, plumbing and electrical being relocated, etc.) - Add a month. I know it sounds excessive but if you plan for a month and the project finishes on time or early because you didn't encounter any problems, you will be grateful. If it goes in the other direction you will be thoroughly annoyed and perhaps even unprepared financially for the extra unexpected expenses.
- Gut/renos (entire spaces). I don't have a formula for this. What I would say is that if your contractor says he'll have the project done in 3 months and you don't have a professional project manager (hired by you, not the contractor) on the job, it's a crapshoot. Hire a design (not decorating) professional to handle the timeline and have them get you a realistic estimate of when it will all be done. And don't forget - most timelines don't include the time it takes to finish the Punch List (the last items on a renovation like door stops and door knobs and hooks and moldings and trims and paint smudges and repairing anything that isn't to your satisfaction) and as anyone who has lived through it can tell you, getting a contractor to get the punch list complete in a timely manner can take something. Be prepared for the lingering list and be thrilled if it's done in a timely manner. *

Whatever the scale of your project, if it involves renovation, which is quite distinct from decoration, always remember to add buffer time to your timeline. It removes the pressure of feeling that things are not going to be done on time and gives your contractor breathing room to deal with whatever arises, if it arises.

*Note: There are many contractors who have enough workmen/crews to handle the punch list of a project while they are also amidst other projects. The larger the size of construction company, the easier it is to keep within the timeline and to manage multiple projects simultaneously. However, if you hire a smaller-sized construction company and they have another project right after yours, it will be harder to get the workmen to come back and complete your punch list. Solution? Make certain the Punch List is generated at least a month before the end of the project and keep noting completed items as they get done. Consider - holding 10% on the budget (the standard protocol for punch list items) MIGHT not be enough of an incentive to bring a crew back to your project. My inference has nothing to do with the professionalism of contractors or meant to say something disparaging. It's all a function of logistics and efficiency. Better yet, if you want your project done completely within a realistic timeline, hire a design professional to spearhead it for you.

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